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French report French report
by Euro Reporter
2011-11-28 10:39:49
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France working towards greater EU integration

French Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse said Sunday that France was working to change European Union treaties in a bid to further consolidate the euro zone. "The idea is to consolidate the euro zone," Pecresse said during an interview on French television channel Canal Plus. "There will be more integration."

Pecresse's comments follow reports that euro-zone countries are weighing a new plan to accelerate the integration of their fiscal policies, as Europe's leaders race to convince investors they can resolve the region's debt crisis and keep the currency area from fracturing. Pecresse wouldn't give more details on any plan being worked on, other than to say it would act as a "proof of solidarity."


Unemployment rose in Oct

Unemployment in France rose in October from an 11-year high the previous month, Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand said on Sunday, in more bad economic news for the government five months from elections. Bertrand told LCI television in an interview that France's monthly unemployment figures due to be released on Monday were "not good".

"Unemployment is going to rise in October," the minister said. Data for September had shown the number of registered jobseekers in mainland France raised to 2.78 million -- the highest reading since 2.8 million in February 2000.

Five months from a presidential election at which polls suggest Socialist Francois Hollande could easily defeat President Nicolas Sarkozy, the grim outlook for the job market bodes badly for consumer spending, the traditional engine of French growth. Many economists predict France's economy could enter recession in the fourth quarter.


Fear being indebted to China

In front of the horse-meat butcher shop she runs with her husband on Rue de la Roquette, Marie-Francoise Peltier reminisced about how things used to be in this enclave of Paris' 11th arrondissement, back when the street was lined with neighbourhood boulangeries, cafes and boutiques. "It was like a little village here," she said. In the late 1980s, several struggling textile shops around long, narrow Rue Popincourt were acquired by Chinese importers. They prospered, attracting others who bought out more of the surrounding small businesses that were unable to make ends meet. Within a decade, as closing time came around, the metal shutters of the wholesale clothing shops would roll down and Rue Popincourt would go dark: a mini-industrial zone in the heart of Paris.

On its small scale, this neighbourhood has experienced some of the anxiety now being felt as the European Union looks to emerging nations, and especially to China, to invest in its teetering finances to calm panic over the bloc's massive debt crisis. Any Chinese bailout for Europe is unlikely to re-create Rue Popincourt's experience across France. The Chinese money would be used to beef up a European-wide line of credit aimed at insulating beleaguered economies such as Greece and Italy from their high-debt troubles. And so far, the Chinese have shown no enthusiasm for putting their money into Europe's troubled hands. But that has not stopped many here in France, on the right and the left; from worrying that they would surrender some of their sovereignty should China change its mind about tapping its stash of foreign reserves to contribute to a bailout.

"We're going to put ourselves in the wolf's mouth, once we've taken this money that I call dirty money," right-wing lawmaker Nicolas Dupont-Aignan said recently, adding that any deal would be like "prostituting" Europe. The Green Party's leader, Eva Joly, fears "selling Europe in chunks to China." More moderate critics of any EU-China deal come from the ranks of mostly left-leaning political figures, including Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande. They argue that any increase in financial dependency on China would diminish French and other European influence over the emerging superpower, limiting leverage on issues such as human rights and international trade. Of course there are others, including members of the French government, who profess that there is no downside to fishing for Chinese aid.


Far-right candidate unveils vision

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen unveiled her vision for the country to hundreds of cheering supporters Saturday, advocating again for an exit from the euro and tighter border controls. During a speech that lasted more than an hour, Le Pen hammered home the traditional promises of her Front National party: strengthening France, preserving family values, fighting immigration and rejecting globalization. "French interest before everything, above everything," she told the crowd.

But on the economy, she was surprisingly silent, putting off until January her plan for reducing France's debts. Le Pen and the front have always advocated a more isolationist path for France -- policies that could gain traction as Europe's debt crisis continues to swallow more countries. Greece, Portugal and Ireland have already been bailed out, and Italy's fate now hangs in the balance, with its borrowing costs approaching levels generally considered unaffordable. Fears about the future of the euro and the ability of eurozone leaders to dig the continent out of the crisis have also sent France's borrowing costs rising. Le Pen would only repeat that France should leave the euro before it falls apart, telling BFM TV after her speech that "we have to anticipate this collapse, not suffer it."

She said she would outline a "plan for vigour" in January -- and said it would provide a sharp contrast to the austerity introduced by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The government has been forced to introduce a raft of budget cuts this year as it tries to keep its promise to balance the budget before 2016. While Sarkozy has said France must help right the eurozone it helped create, Le Pen contends that such integration impinges on France's sovereignty. "None of this will be possible without the authority of a strong state," she said during her speech, which lasted more than hour and was frequently interrupted by applause. "I said strong, not bloated."

Le Pen, who inherited the leadership of the Front National from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, has said she wants to broaden appeal for her party, known for its anti-immigration, anti-Islam views. But she reiterated calls for tighter surveillance of the borders, calling for customs posts to be placed at the frontier. Within the European Union, goods and people now cross most borders without such checks. Le Pen also presented a raft of ideas on improving political accountability -- like limiting French presidents to one seven-year term, instead of the current two five-year terms -- and education -- like focusing on teaching French and calculus earlier.

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